We had been talking about it for months. This idea that a company, in the very real world of consumer products, would function in a radically different way by putting people first and by ensuring we would be a genuine tool for cultural empowerment. It was a beautiful, frightening concept at a very early stage, and it was anyone's guess if it could even get off the ground, so to speak.
Three of us, Michael Miller, Patrick Sweeney and myself, travelled down to the Barrancas to meet with our friends and to discuss how we could go about pretty much everything. Just the change in environment was already a powerful reminder that we should tread lightly, leave plenty of room for our friends to contribute to the conversation in their own, humble, quiet way and not try to “get things done”, as much as our North American habits dictate.
We met with Mario and Horacio up Canyons, and they told us they had planned a few stops for us on our way down to Urique, which - by the way - we would get to Raramuri-style, on foot. We were to meet with Horacio's family in Porochi on a trip that would take “a couple hours”, and that's about all we knew at that point.
The adventure of hiking down into the Copper Canyons was, in itself, already exhilarating. We got to discover new trails and paths, with Horacio stopping here and there on the way to describe local plants or point out other footpaths leading to ranchitos or villages. The weather was gorgeous, the setting was intimate and everyone seemed to feel pretty good.
We reached a high plateau and made our way to a farmstead, where Horacio's grandparents had obviously been waiting for us. As is the way with Raramuri culture, we didn't come forward to meet them and hung back as Horacio approached and greeted everyone. Quickly, however, we were waved to come in with an eagerness that surprised me, and made me feel most welcome. The older man had picked fresh apples, which he offered us, and the lady had set up everything to show us the ropes in making traditional pinole. From the fire-roasting to the final grinding on the metate, she proceeded to show us all the steps and explain what was going on. It was fantastic, and felt like we were visiting distant relatives. We stayed at the ranchito for a little while, rested and then got back on the trail to keep descending into Urique.
After some hours of a pretty grueling hike, we got to the familiar streets and sounds of Urique, with the hot afternoon sun lighting up everything with a radiant glow. We were tired and thirsty, but kept going along the river to Mario's house, in front of Entre Amigos which a lot of us have come to consider our second home. It was there that the biggest surprise was awaiting.
Before the idea of Mas Korima even occurred, I quickly learned that Raramuri culture makes it very hard, if not nearly impossible, for an outsider like me to directly address someone they want to meet, much more so if that person is a woman. I can only say with confidence that I can address about three women in the whole of the Barrancas; Prospero's wife, Sabina, my best Raramuri friend Javier's wife, Catalina, and another Catalina, Rascon, the great Raramuri youth champion.
Yet, we made our way to Mario's back terrace and a group of women was there, waiting for us, working their metates and grinding pinole. Mario told us they had requested a meeting with us. I could barely believe it. They, it turned out, wanted to hear about the Mas Korima project from our own mouths.
So we stood there, among the women, and we explained in the best Spanish we could muster, what the big idea was. Use the heritage and benefits of pinole to make a great product for Chabochi (outside world) runners. Help them get this great food out of the Barrancas and onto the shelves of our stores. Because it's good. Because people like and respect it. Because it has great value.
The women listened, sometimes offering the slightest of nods.
We continued with stating that never should food destined to the children or anyone in the villages be used for the business. We would only buy the extra production, and they would dictate how many hours they want to spend making it, and how much volume they can reasonably produce without foregoing their usual tasks. And they would determine the price we would pay, not the other way around.
After a little more nodding, the women all looked in the direction of the pathway leading to the road, and whispered “La Jefa”. And there she was. A frail but still very alert old lady, walking with a stick, making her way to the meeting place. She paused for a while, looked at all of us, and gave us the nod.
I didn't get it at first. “La Jefa” obviously, means “the boss”, but what the women meant is we were about to get the go or no go from their elder, who it turns out is over 100 years old. No one knows her true age, but she remembers making tortillas as a child during the Mexican Revolution.
She took a pause, stared us up and down, and then gave us a little smile and a nod. And right there, I understood. Not only was our dream of empowerment working, having just been invited to a meeting by a group of traditional women. Our project had just been given the highest of green lights by no one else than one of the tribe elders.